Just weeks before the Dutch vaccination campaign against influenza A(H1N1) is due to begin, the reluctance to have the vaccine is increasing. In the Netherlands, two thirds of nursing staff say they do not want to be vaccinated against the A(H1N1) virus. There is little enthusiasm for the flu jab in other European countries such as France, Belgium and Spain.
In a small pub often visited by nursing staff near Amsterdam’s university hospital, the AMC, the question “Who wants to have the vaccination?” immediately sparks a lively debate. People have their doubts.
"For me it's not really clear whether there is a reduced risk in vaccination or not, if there is a reduced risk for the patient. And it's not very clear so far. There are discussions on television and in the papers, but so far it's not very clear."
Ute, who works in a home for people with disabilities, says she would not even consider having the vaccine:
"No, I certainly wouldn’t. For a start it is very difficult to really protect yourself against flu. Every flu jab targets a certain virus. And there are hundreds going around, so you are not protected at all. The side effects can be really serious. And it seems like there is a lot of panic-spreading going on. It is only the pharmaceutical industry that stands to benefit from it."
The reluctance to the H1N1 vaccine is not just limited to the Netherlands. The same debate is taking place in Spain, France and Belgium. Organisations which actively oppose the vaccination campaign are gaining momentum, says virologist and influenza advisor for the Belgian government, Marc van Ranst. They are spreading fears about side effects, the pharmaceutical industry and the government. It is high time we heard a well-informed counter-argument. The usual strategy of ignoring the problem is no longer working, says Mr Van Ranst.
"And in any case the worst thing you can do is to allow even a glimmer of a rumour that vaccination might become obligatory. Let’s be quite clear: obligatory vaccination is out of the question in any European country. This is a vaccine taken on a voluntary basis, when someone is convinced that this is good for his or her health. It is fine to get vaccinated, but it is also fine if you don’t."
Caution appears to be the magic word. In the University Medical Centre St. Radboud in Nijmegen, the sixth information campaign in as many years which draws the attention of the medical staff to the importance of getting vaccinated is due to begin.
Here the response is 51 percent, compared to a national average of around 25 percent. In previous years, vaccination campaigns were just for seasonal flu. Now attention is focused on the A(H1N1) virus. Nannet van der Geest, company doctor at the hospital and closely involved in the campaign, is not keen on compulsory vaccination campaigns like the one in the United States.
"I think it's important to give the right information and to motivate the healthcare workers. Have a little patience because when I look back, in the last few years you can see the percentage is increasing. So give it a try. I don't like to force those things."
Virologist Marc van Ranst concedes that it is impossible to persuade the real die-hards, but some people can be convinced with solid arguments. That is because the reluctance of the nursing staff is mainly based on ignorance, thinks independent nurse Tineke van der Kruk.
"I think they do not know enough about the background of the vaccination. They think it's in the interest of their institutions that they won't have too many sick employees to pay for. And I think they underestimate the disease itself and all the consequences it has."
At the end of October, the leaders of a number of medical organisations will be vaccinated during a meeting open to the public. In November, it is the turn of the hospital staff.
*RNW translation (nc)